Posts Tagged ‘March on Washington’

A Vision of Hope Remembered

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

As we celebrate the golden anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we’ve learned – or relearned – that “I Have A Dream” wasn’t the title of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic speech.

We’ve been reminded that King’s address, widely considered one of the greatest pieces of oratory in the 20th century, was delivered first in Detroit. We remember afresh that King’s impromptu recitation of his dream came at the stern prompting of gospel great Mahalia Jackson, who, sitting nearby, boisterously blurted, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin. Tell ‘em about the dream.” The sermonic sequence of “call and response” that followed elevated the consciousness of the nation to what it could be.

Twenty years ago, educators in my rural Tennessee stomping ground skimmed or skipped many lessons relating to African-American history. I’m still trying to reclaim a past that set the course for my future. I’m embarrassed to admit I was an upper classman in college before I learned the march’s primary conspirator was labor leader Asa Philip Randolph. He had incubated the protest idea two decades earlier, but called it off when President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order forbidding discrimination in national defense industries.

More scantly known are the matriarchs of the movement who offered way more than moral support to the men credited with leading the campaign for equality. Ruby Doris Smith, Ella Baker, Diane Nash, and Fannie Lou Hamer are names we Google today because they’ve been resigned to postscripts in history. Yet their substantial contributions and courage in advancing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were pivotal to civil rights actions across the South.

What’s more, few people know the 1963 march inspired a Kentucky offspring. On the train ride back to the Commonwealth, local activists sketched out a demonstration that would be a smaller facsimile of the March on Washington. Seven months later on March 5, 1964, a crowd of 10,000 gathered for a March on Frankfort. The all-star lineup on the capitol steps was a sight to behold: Dr. King, baseball legend Jackie Robinson, and the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.

Former state Senator Georgia Davis Powers, who helped organize the Frankfort march, recalls the event and the effects it had on civil rights efforts in Kentucky and on her own career.

As we commemorate the official date of the March on Washington 50 years ago today, I remember the emotions I felt this summer when I saw the MLK memorial for the first time. The slain hero is immortalized in solid granite 30 feet high. His arms are crossed and he sternly gazes upon a vista of the Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial, and the horizon beyond. It’s magnificent, compelling, and thought provoking.

It’s as if King is still waiting for the nation to make good on the promissory note issued in the Declaration of Independence, still waiting for the check to clear in the bank of justice, still waiting for character to trump color in our collective judgment of each other, and still waiting for a beloved community to take hold.

His presence on the National Mall reminds us too that we must “forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline” as exemplified in the mass civil rights demonstrations in Washington and Frankfort. Today, we celebrate the dreamer and, hopefully, we commit anew to the dream.

Remembering the “Mother of All Marches”

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Louisvillian Raoul Cunningham was a 22-year-old college student when he participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Half a century later, Cunningham, who now heads the Louisville NAACP, questions how much the march improved employment or equality for African-Americans in the years since.

This weekend, thousands will caravan to Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the monumental civil rights event. Nearly 250,000 people crowded together on the National Mall on August 28, 1963 to peacefully demonstrate for racial equality in rights and economic opportunities. For Cunningham, participating in the march was a natural extension of his activism that began when we has a teenager. During the civil rights era, Cunningham was arrested on several occasions at demonstrations he helped organize.

“At that point, civil rights was in the forefront and on every African-American college student’s mind,” says Cunningham. “You didn’t know that we would be sitting here today talking about a commemoration of the March on Washington. We didn’t know it was the mother of all marches at that time,” he added.

The most dramatic outcome of the march came less than a year later when Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. You can watch excerpts of the signing ceremony and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s remarks here.

Recent events have prompted some to question the flat-lining or even regression of equality: U.S. Supreme Court rulings rolling back affirmative action and pre-clearance provisions of voting rights laws; disproportionate incarceration of minorities; higher than national average jobless numbers among blacks; and even the verdict in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post Media Group has been examining the state of black America. I spoke with him last month in Washington and he explained what prompted the Huffington Post to investigate civil rights progress since the 1963 march.

This weekend on Connections with Renee Shaw, we’ll reflect on the March on Washington and the dramatic events that precipitated it. Former Kentucky State Senator Georgia Davis Powers tells how the Washington march inspired planning for a civil rights march on Kentucky’s capitol that would occur seven months later. Independent journalist and adjunct professor Betty Baye shares her memories and the importance of studying the movement for a deeper perspective on current issues.

Connections with Renee Shaw airs Friday at 5 p.m. on KET2 and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on KET.

PBS will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington with a full week of special programming. A highlight includes a new documentary that reveals the dramatic story behind the massive demonstration. It features interviews with Harry Belefonte, Julian Bond, Oprah Winfrey, Andrew Young, and more. The March premiers Tuesday at 9 p.m. on KET. Learn more about the PBS coverage and online events at

Raoul Cunningham says he’s excited about the celebrations, but is eager to see if the commemorations will inspire new efforts to expand the franchise of civil rights. In his words, “there is still a civil rights battle.”

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